Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Treasure of Bully Hayes

Bully Hayes was a man of great enterprize, initiative and resource. However, the obverse of this appears to be a complete deficit of moral sense. Indeed, on the basis of scant detail, the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes Henry William Hayes as an adventurer, swindler and blackbirder. Nevertheless, he became of legend; and something of the glamour remains.

It is said that he was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of an innkeeper. It it is thought that he initially gained his sailing experience on the Great Lakes. However, his story really begins on the Pacific, where he exploited the many trade opportunities, seemingly with complete indifference as to the lawful and the piratical.

Bully Hayes was soon notorious in every port in the wide Pacific. However, the point of contemporary interest concerns his demise and the island of Kosrae, where Bully Hayes is a legend to this day. It is said that he had secretly hidden his ill-gotten riches somewhere on the island and the idea of wicked pirates, buried treasure on an exotic tropical island, and an unsolved mystery is the very stuff of romance itself.

The island of Kosrae, for the benefit of any would be treasure seekers, is located just to the north of the equator. It is part of the chain known as the Caroline islands. It is two and a half thousand miles southwest of Hawaii, and almost two thousand miles north of Australia. However, its isolation did not deter the nineteenth century whalers, traders and missionaries. The natural harbours and its location on the whaling routes was a veritable magnet. With whale oil at the centre of the global economy, there were fortunes to be made. And, as is so often the case, where there is legal commerce, one may also find the not so legal kind. That is where Bully Hayes practiced his trade; at the interstices of the lawful and the unlawful. His single minded pursuit of profit involved him in every form of infamy. Theft, fraud, kidnapping, rape and murder were merely adjuncts to trade. Selling people into slavery was simply trade. Along these waters and islands, knavery was hardly new, but Hayes brought piracy and deceit to ever new heights, or depths, depending upon one's perspective.

The natives of the Pacific islands beseeched their gods. The civilised nations sent their warships. And, when he embarked on their shores, they sent their police. But neither divine intervention, nor the navies nor police could it seem stay his predations. It was in 1877 that his tyranny was finally brought to an end by his put upon once too often cook, who in a rage smashed Bully on the head and threw his body overboard to feed the doubtless more deserving sharks.

The cook was never brought to justice and, whilst this may seem a fitting end for a man of such violence and lack of restraint, the mystery of the buried treasure remains. One, of the many, island stories, which are told with such avidity, holds that a large crab was seen to emerge from a hole with a piece of gold in its claw. However, notwithstanding the many excavations in the area, no treasure has yet been found. Another often told, although less popular, story, asserts that immediately prior to the Second World War some employees of a Japanese sawmill discovered a metal box while digging on a small island at Okat harbour. Soon after the alleged discovery, the sawmill closed and the owner and all the employees returned to Japan. It was later reported that the sawmill's owner had unaccountably become extremely wealthy.

Even if the story of the Japanese wealth is true, the lure of Hayes' buried treasure remains, for according to the storyteller (or historian as we might say) of Kosrae, Hayes had buried three treasure chests, and the Japanese had only recovered one. If the buried treasure is any where near as rich as the tales claim, perhaps it is time for the for the application of the technology and techniques of the modern treasure hunter.

And that is the tale of Bully Hayes, the last of the buccaneers.